Vicarious Moral Licensing: The Influence of Others' Past Moral Actions on Moral Behavior

Maryam Kouchaki*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

82 Scopus citations

Abstract

This article investigates the effect of others' prior nonprejudiced behavior on an individual's subsequent behavior. Five studies supported the hypothesis that people are more willing to express prejudiced attitudes when their group members' past behavior has established nonprejudiced credentials. Study 1a showed that participants who were told that their group was more moral than similar other groups were more willing to describe a job as better suited for Whites than for African Americans. In Study 1b, when given information on group members' prior nondiscriminatory behavior (selecting a Hispanic applicant in a prior task), participants subsequently gave more discriminatory ratings to the Hispanic applicant for a position stereotypically suited for majority members (Whites). In Study 2, moral self-concept mediated the effect of others' prior nonprejudiced actions on a participant's subsequent prejudiced behavior such that others' past nonprejudiced actions enhanced the participant's moral self-concept, and this inflated moral self-concept subsequently drove the participant's prejudiced ratings of a Hispanic applicant. In Study 3, the moderating role of identification with the credentialing group was tested. Results showed that participants expressed more prejudiced attitudes toward a Hispanic applicant when they highly identified with the group members behaving in nonprejudiced manner. In Study 4, the credentialing task was dissociated from the participants' own judgmental task, and, in addition, identification with the credentialing group was manipulated rather than measured. Consistent with prior studies, the results showed that participants who first had the opportunity to view an in-group member's nonprejudiced hiring decision were more likely to reject an African American man for a job stereotypically suited for majority members. These studies suggest a vicarious moral licensing effect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)702-715
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Volume101
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011

Keywords

  • Discrimination
  • Moral credentials
  • Prejudice
  • Social licensing
  • Vicarious self-concept

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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